California Fire Survivors Respond Unexpectedly to Loss of Homes

Leah Hickman | Contributor to | Monday, October 16, 2017

California Fire Survivors Respond Unexpectedly to Loss of Homes

CNN reports that, since the California wildfires began at the beginning of October, thousands of homes have been “reduced to smoldering ruins.” Despite the wreckage and the incredible losses they’ve suffered, surviving California homeowners still call themselves “fortunate.”

According to CNN’s article, one of the homes destroyed in the wildfires belonged to Michaella Flores, a survivor of the recent shooting in Las Vegas. Although she was not harmed by the Las Vegas gunman, the fires wiped out her house only days later. In the wake of these two extremely traumatic situations, Ms. Flores says that she has experienced “a very helpless feeling” and hasn’t had “any time to process any of this.”

Janice Mathis, another homeowner from northern California mentioned in the CNN article, escaped the fires and returned days later to a home completely destroyed. She didn’t even have anything to “sift through” upon her return. The only thing left was ash.

One Santa Rosa resident who also lost her home to the fires reflects on the setbacks resulting from such destruction. “All your life savings and work for all the years is gone,” she said.

Yet, despite such overwhelming losses, many of these “helpless” homeowners recognize the blessing that it is to be alive.

Janice Mathis told reporters, “The first thing we think of is we’re fortunate.” Although “fortunate” doesn’t seem to fit the circumstance of a person who has lost almost everything to flames, she’s not the only one talking like this. Ernie Chapman of Santa Rosa, a man whose home was also destroyed by the wildfires, told reporters, “I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to have my dogs. You can replace this stuff but life’s most important.”

Instead of expressing anger at all they have lost, these people share their gratefulness for what they still have. In a culture that says worth and happiness comes from the increase of material possessions, this thankfulness appears as a paradox. This is because living according to the rules of the world leaves no room for the gratefulness these people have shown.

But this paradoxical reaction to suffering does echo things we find in Scripture. In God’s Word, believers receive the command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). And it’s in these sacred Scriptures that the Apostle Paul talks about learning the secret of being content, even in times of need (Philippians 4:12).

Whether or not you live by the rules of the world or the rules of God’s Word all depends on what you believe about human worth. If you measure your worth by what you possess, then you’ll have no reason to be glad in the face of such disasters. But, if you rely on your heavenly Father for your worth, you’ll not only be able to give thanks despite suffering, as these people in California did, but you’ll even learn to give thanks for the suffering you experience. And, as these stories show, there is something really refreshing about such a paradox.


Leah Hickman is a 2017 graduate of Hillsdale College’s English program. She has written pieces for multiple Hillsdale College campus publications as well as for,, and the Discover Laura Blog. Read more by Leah at

Photo: Flames rise behind Ledson Winery on October 14, 2017 in Kenwood, near Santa Rosa, California. At least 40 people are confirmed dead with hundreds still missing. Officials expect the death toll to rise, and now estimate that 5,700 structures have been destroyed.

Photo courtesy: David McNew/Getty Images

Publication date: October 16, 2017

California Fire Survivors Respond Unexpectedly to Loss of Homes